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OpEdNews Op Eds    H4'ed 12/16/15

The "Hamilton" Minstrel Show

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In the era of Black Lives Matter, how do you get Whites (including the Fox News crowd) to give standing ovations to Blacks and Browns presenting a play about the era of slavery and "Indian" extermination?

Simple: You (1) forget about Black Lives Matter, extermination and slavery and (2) make the play a "reverse" minstrel show where (3) a cast of what Malcolm X called "house Negroes" pretend to be white and celebrate the very people who oppressed and slaughtered their own forebears.

And there you have it: Lin-Manuel Miranda's feel-good musical "Hamilton," which is currently setting box office records on Broadway before enthusiastic, overwhelmingly white audiences.

It's a whiteface minstrel show without the grease paint.

In "Hamilton," mostly black and Hispanic actors cavort and grin through performances redolent of Stepin Fetchit. Without a hint of conscious irony, they domesticate their communities' hip-hop resistance medium to celebrate the slave merchant, Alexander Hamilton and the Indian Exterminator, George Washington.

And white people love it. That's because "Hamilton" is the Horatio Alger story our culture loves and uses against the poor, especially people of color.

"Hamilton's" about a lowly illegitimate Scotsman from the Caribbean who at the age of 19 comes to New York City bent on making a fortune and achieving immortality. An unabashed social-climber, young Alexander sees himself as the embodiment of "his country." He is "young, scrappy, and hungry" with plenty of brains but no polish -- a real diamond in the rough.

So he joins the revolution, marries into the rich slave-owning Schuyler family, rises to prominence in the Continental Army, fathers a son, authors most of the Federalist Papers, has an affair, becomes Secretary of the Treasury and is killed in a duel with Aaron Burr.

Actually, Hamilton turns out to be a real buffoon. He's self-centered and arrogant. Though a criminal in the eyes of the slaves and "Indians," he and his kind are obsessed about his "honor" and are willing to kill and be killed for honor's sake. Three duels mark the play. One eventually causes Hamilton's own death; another takes the life of his son. He's one of the "Founding Fathers," who routinely crushed slave and "Indian" uprisings without mercy, but then self-righteously took up arms against England. Their issue (as the play puts it): taxes on tea and whisky!

The play overflows with comatose irony.

Lin-Manuel Miranda is the Puerto Rican artist who produced "Hamilton's" music, lyrics and book. Though his people know plenty about the horrors of colonialism, he doesn't seem to get it either. Instead, he presents his work as a celebration of post-racial patriotism. He has said "We're telling the story of old, dead white men but we're using actors of color, and that makes the story more immediate and more accessible to a contemporary audience."

Apparently, the actors are just as clueless. They're doing a minstrel show for the descendants of the Massa.

It's like their Jewish counterparts cavorting and grinning through a celebration called "Eichmann!"

 

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Mike Rivage-Seul is a liberation theologian and former Roman Catholic priest. Retired in 2014, he taught at Berea College in Kentucky for 40 years where he directed Berea's Peace and Social Justice Studies Program. His latest book is "The Magic (more...)
 

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